Social networks of family and friends are key resources that individuals turn to in times of need. When family and friends can provide assistance, they constitute a form of social capital that individuals may draw on for social support. Although a large body of research has examined the use of social support in its own right and as a predictor or moderator of other outcomes, few studies have explored differentials in access to social support for the general population or how these access levels have changed over time. There are many open questions. Is access to social support broadly distributed in the population or does it differ by demographic subgroups? Have levels of access remained constant? We compare levels of access to social support through both family and friends across population subgroups and describe the changing contours of access to it in the general population. Using repeated cross-sectional measurements that we compile from nearly two decades of surveys conducted as part of the Survey of Income and Program Participation, we expand on a literature that has, to date, focused almost exclusively on the use of social support as a predictor of other outcomes using non-representative data. This article presents, to our knowledge, the first nationally representative study of stratification and trends in access to social support for individuals in the United States.


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pp. 725-752
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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